In my travels about the interwebs I encounter a certain question a lot; “Can Webcomics Be a Money-making Business?” It’s not a very interesting question to me, as I think everything doesn’t have to be about money, but I have some thoughts about it nonetheless.
The entertainment and publishing industries are hungry for more stories and fresh ideas, as they always are; their jobs depend on it! But over the last few years I think the situation is getting more urgent for them. In the good ol’ days, people didn’t have as much choice in their media, so they would just watch the same buddy cop story, or the same romantic comedy, with different dressing. If the people didn’t like it, they were welcome to turn off the TV and have a picnic instead.
But as the ‘new media’ take root in our culture, the entertainment industry is having to work harder to keep people’s attention. In their search for a competitive edge, they are swimming upstream, back to the pools where these industries were spawned, returning to the source; writers.
Webcomics are a rich wilderness to search through for new writers. People with stories to tell can show their stuff in a direct and accessible way. It’s not exactly a marriage made in heaven, but they’re still only at the early dating phase. We’ll see how things work out if webcomics lets the entertainment industry get past first base.
One of the things that industry people don’t get about webcomics is the money thing. (If it’s not something you’re getting paid for, then it’s a hobby right?) It seems to get dumped into the same ‘useless’ pile as fine art and poetry. It seems like the attitude is “No one ever got rich doing that stuff, not while they were alive anyways. Just a waste of time – amusing if you enjoy that sort of thing I guess”.
That’s not a respectful attitude, is it? No wonder webcomics isn’t letting you past first base, entertainment industry. You’re not taking the time to get to understand webcomics’ feelings and hopes and dreams.
Webcomics is like graffiti. People do it without a paycheck, and they give it away for free, but the artists who do it work on their own terms, without having to compromise. Webcomics is still a very young artform compared to graffiti, but the potential is there for it to emerge as a real force in the culture of the 21st century.
So to carry on that metaphor, we can examine the question “Can Webcomics Be a Money-making Business?” through the lens of the graffiti experience. The answer is not simple. Graffiti is a specific thing – uninvited paint on a wall in a public place. You can split hairs there, and as you go, you get further away from what graffiti is. If a bank hires an artist to do a mural on the wall of their parking lot, is it still graffiti? If a well-known graffiti artist does a painting on a canvas, is it still graffiti? What if they design a t-shirt? Or a logo?
Graffiti artists can go on to have successful careers in the graphic arts industries as designers and illustrators, but graffiti is not their ‘job’. It’s possibly where they got their start, where they developed their methods, where they worked out their techniques, made their contacts... but no one makes any money off of graffiti itself.
Is the same true of webcomics? The answer is impossible to nail down. Experience has shown that everything to do with ‘the new media’ is a moving target. What’s true today could be totally changed tomorrow. As of right now, there’s no established ‘webcomics business’. People that pay their bills solely from webcomics are the exception, rather than the rule. There’s a webcomics industry, but it’s an industry in the old-fashioned sense of the word: diligence in an activity or pursuit; steady or habitual effort.
Does that have value? Absolutely, but not necessarily a dollar value. For webcomics to be an ‘industry’ in the business sense of the word, it’s got to employ other people. People with non-comic creating skills. That’s what takes something from an ‘artform’ to a ‘business’.
Don’t get me wrong. If someone wants to pay me for writing, I’ll write whatever they want. I’ll write dog-food labels if there’s a steady pay-check involved. I’m not trying to be some indy purist, I have nothing against people making money.
There’s people out there making money from their webcomics, and more power to ‘em. They’re livin’ the dream, and fueling the enterprise with their own blood sweat and tears. But being an exceptional success is not the same as having a successful business model. Right now, the only way to make a living as a webcomics creator is to just be bloody brilliant.
For now, webcomics will have to settle for just being excited about what they’ve got, which is that excitement that comes from creating something you really enjoy just for its own sake. Maybe the entertainment industry will take the time to get to know webcomics a bit better; it could be the start of a beautiful friendship.
Saturno the Demon Eater by Jilly Foo
Because webcomics creators don’t have to pitch their idea to a publisher, there are fewer obstacles to prevent them from creating things that are very unique. Bizarre even. The author does not have to know where they are going with the story, they don’t need to have three acts worked out, and they don’t need to explain the idea. This approach can have mixed results. Sometimes there are webcomics that could benefit from a bit of development before they were released to the public. Saturno the Demon-Eater by Jilly Foo is not one of those. It’s really great just like it is. It's bloody brilliant.
This is a story that takes place in some sort of version of hell. It’s a dog-eat-dog world (literally) as demons must eat each other to grow in power. The rules of this world unfold as Saturno struggles to survive. It’s one of those stories that’s enigmatic and weird, but you can sense that the author has a logic underpinning the whole thing. It feels like something out of a scary, disturbing dream. Not a nightmare exactly – one of those dark dreams that you like for some reason.
It’s gorey and creepy. Tim Burton would just love it I’m sure. The main character Saturno has a gentle inner nature, which makes it all the more painful to try and survive in this violent world. As the demons eat each other they change shape and grow. They take all manner of forms – part of the fun is to see the interesting creatures that the author comes up with.
The artwork is beautiful. Jilly Foo’s paintings have a wonderful simplicity that allows the textures and colors to support the storytelling. The text is all done in caption style – a simple font (Garamond?) for narration and dialogue without boxes or balloons. There’s no standard page size. Some drawings are larger than others, as are some pages. The overall effect is to draw the reader into this dream-like world. I recommend reading it in a darkened room to enhance the effect.
Once this comic is all finished, I’m sure someone will pick it up for publication. It’s beautifully rendered, with characters you can’t help but be interested in finding out more about. It’s being hosted on a number of sites, but as far as I can tell, DrunkDuck is the main site. If you like monsters and aren’t too squeamish, then you should definitely take a look at Saturno the Demon Eater.